In 2008 the Environmental Protection Agency gave the S.S. Badger, a ferry that takes passengers and their cars between Manitowoc, Wisconsin and Ludington, Michigan, four years to stop polluting Lake Michigan. During the trips, the coal powered ferry would dump the coal-ash straight into Lake Michigan. This pollution is harmful to the wildlife living in the lake, people who sell and eat the fish from the lake and communities who drink the Great Lakes water. As we know from my article, “Water, Water…Everywhere?” this impacts a lot of people. S.S. Badger responded to this demand by unsuccessfully implementing solution.
During the 2013 season, S.S. Badger was under much scrutiny for continuing to pollute in Lake Michigan; the EPA fined them. With the 2014 season just a month away, we’re seeing a much more promising attempt by S.S. Badger. A plan was released stating that during the 2014 season the ferry will be outfitted so that the coal-ash is stored onboard during the trip. The entire process will take most of the 2014 year and 2015 will be the first year of the completed project.
You might be thinking, I don’t live anywhere near Lake Michigan, why does where they dispose of their coal-ash matter to me? S.S. Badger began running their service in 1953, as a coal powered machine. That means they’ve been dumping coal-ash into the lake for 60 years (let’s assume that this year the pollution decreases). If you live anywhere with water that connects to Lake Michigan, that water is contaminated as well.
S.S. Badger is not the only source of coal pollution. Coal powered power plants give off over 140 million tons of coal-ash each year. Coal-ash is toxic containing mercury, lead and other metals. Exposure to large amounts of coal-ash raises the chance of being diagnosed with cancer, birth defects and asthma. The good news is that the EPA came out with new emission standards, which will result in the majority of coal-powered plants closing in the next two years.
For areas where there is still a large amount of coal-ash, the EPA came out with research that shows coal-ash can be used in concrete. Exposure to this concrete is not harmful because it is encapsulated. The EPA suggests that this will be sustainable use of coal-ash because not only does it find a place to get rid of the coal-ash but it also strengthens the concrete. Their study shows that concrete is more durable with the addition of coal-ash.
As emission standards become stricter and climate change becomes a higher priority (fingers crossed), individuals and companies will find ways to become more sustainable. In the case of S.S. Badger, creating less pollution will probably bring more business. If sustainability is not what drives you, think about what does, is there a more sustainable way that also benefits you?
I believe this is how sustainability will become more integrated. Individuals and companies don’t have to make changes with the climate or future generations in mind (although you could) instead they should make the changes that make the most sense for them. For example in Kansas, typically a conservative state without sustainability in mind, companies have switched over to renewable energies because it saves them money. Yes, in the long run switching to more sustainable practice does save money, but don’t have me convince you try it for yourself. Make a switch that works for you and ask yourself, was the change for the better and do you think it is a change you can stick with? If so great! If not maybe try something else.
It’s hard to change, took the S.S. Badger six years to really dedicate itself to changing their ways. Sustainability is not a change that will happen over night or even a year for that matter. It is a habit that takes time to dedicate yourself to. If we all made changes for a more sustainable habits, we’d all be sailing a little easier.